MIAMI GARDENS — The Miami Dolphins defense was on the field and Adam Gase and Jay Cutler were hip-to-hip on the team bench, reviewing a drive that had just occurred.
The play clock was rolling and the Dolphins defense was facing a fourth down and now Gase and Cutler were hip-to-hip on the edge of the sideline, chatter-boxing about what was to come.
For at least this season, Cutler, the quarterback, and Gase, the coach, are tied at the hip.
Gase will go as Cutler goes.
It was Gase who reached out to Cutler when Ryan Tannehill was hurt.
Cutler is here because he trusts Gase, his former play-caller in Chicago.
The feeling is mutual.
The most important part of Miami’s preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night at Hard Rock Stadium was what Cutler did in his only two drives.
And so as Miami’s defense was trying to hold things down (and actually aggressively forcing a few fumbles) Gase remained completely focused, and completely engaged, on helping the man who unexpectedly now holds the fate of his season.
The statistics show Cutler completed 3 of 6 passes for 24 yards in his first two drives donning aqua and orange.
But he was better than that.
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Cutler started behind an offensive line featuring Jake Brendel at center (not Mike Pouncey), Jesse Davis at left guard (not Ted Larsen or even Kraig Urbik or Anthony Steen) and Sam Young at right tackle (not Ja’Wuan James).
Cutler faced pressure and seemed to deal with it just fine.
Cutler appeared poised and confident and it appeared he knew what he was doing.
Interestingly, the Dolphins moved at a very fast pace.
It was something Gase and Tannehill never really felt fully comfortable with last season.
But it was go, go, go, for Cutler and the Dolphins on Thursday night.
It has been evident early in recent training camp practices that in DeVante Parker, Cutler realizes what he has. Parker is a freaky Demaryius Thomas-Alshon Jeffery type receiver, and he may quickly emerge as Cutler’s favorite threat.
On a completion of 31 yards negated by a holding penalty on Sam Young, Cutler avoided pressure from the right side, stepped up into the pocket, kept his eyes downfield and overcame a lack of balance to strike Parker on the right sideline.
On Miami’s second drive, Cutler showed off his arm talent.
Yes, Cutler can still sling it with the best of NFL quarterbacks.
There was a laser across the middle from Cutler to Parker, good for 16 yards.
It seemed to take Tannehill more than a year to develop a level of trust for Parker.
It seems to be in Cutler’s nature (or perhaps its pure necessity) to trust a receiver like Parker — immediately.
Draped by two defensive backs on Thursday night, Cutler put one up for Parker (off his back foot, but these things happen) that failed to connect.
But that Cutler attempted the pass is an indication of what is likely to come.
Cutler is playing with house money. As much as Gase may encourage him to reel it in, to make good decisions, to play it smart, Cutler is Cutler is Cutler.
He’s gonna do Jay.
Cutler’s second drive ended when he was slammed hard to the turf after an incomplete screen attempt underneath. Cutler was forced to throw it away and he wasn’t happy.
After he came to Miami’s sideline, Cutler approached the offensive line group and appeared to have some emotional words. It’s hard to know if they were critical or encouraging; inspiring or challenging.
But the read here will be that it is a positive.
First preseason opportunity or not, offensive linemen he can identify by full name or not, Cutler obviously feels comfortable enough to demand something of his teammates.
It’s an indication Cutler cares. And for him to reach his ceiling of success, Cutler must care greatly this season.
It’s unfair to draw vast conclusions based on two series in a preseason game (though of course, we’ll try).
It’s impossible to know exactly how much of Gase’s offense Cutler has already mastered.
It’s impossible to know exactly how long it will take Cutler to develop needed timing and chemistry with Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills and Julius Thomas (as it hasn’t been seen just yet, in camp).
But there were a few positive signs on Thursday night.
Reasons to believe that perhaps Cutler can help fill the void of Tannehill.
Reasons to believe that this unexpected experiment is not going to be an immediate train wreck.
Gase trusts his defensive coordinators (Vance Joseph last season and Matt Burke this season) to handle their side of the ball. He has his hands full calling plays (and now, a talented but aging quarterback thrown into deep waters).
And so it would be wrong to suggest that Gase had never spent time engaging Tannehill, or Matt Moore, in between Miami series’ or even while the Dolphins defense was in action.
But it was clear to anybody watching at Hard Rock Stadium on this night, in Gase’s mind, the most important thing he needed to do was help get Cutler right.
It might take a minute, as Gase would say.
But he is absolutely right.
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